Inducted in 2004
When asked to describe the aim of a hard day’s work as a professional rodeo “bullfighter,” Loyd Ketchum responds earnestly, “When every bullrider walks away safe, it’s been a great day at the office.”
Rodeo bullfighting clown Loyd Ketchum holds one of the longest tenures—fifteen years—of any Ellensburg Rodeo contract performer. Ketchum first came to Ellensburg in 1989, at the beginning of his clown/bullfighter career. Ellensburg was Ketchum’s first major rodeo and former arena director Ken MacRae remembers the local board immediately agreed Ketchum “was a real find.”
A native of Montana’s “Big Sky” rodeo country, Loyd Ketchum grew up in and around Miles City, Montana. It was while studying auto mechanics at Miles City Community College that he began rodeoing, choosing the dangerous bullriding event as his specialization. When he decided to forego a career as a professional bullrider, it was not for fear of an arena accident. Joining the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) in 1987, Ketchum immediately went to work in the related and more dangerous business of a bullfighting clown.
The work of a bullfighting clown is three-fold. His main jobs are to arouse the bulls and make them buck harder during the rides and then protect the bullriders after they have been thrown or have dismounted the beasts at the end of their rides. This means the clown purposely puts himself in harm’s way during and after each and every ride (six to ten per performance), compelling the enraged bulls to buck and then distracting the beasts while the cowboys pick themselves up and (hastily) exit the arena.
The final facet of the bullfighter’s job is to compete in the freestyle bullfighting event. This portion of the rodeo program features the clowns and bulls, without the cowboys, engaging in a timed battle of wits and speed in which the clowns are scored for their athletic and strategic prowess.
Decked out in a big white straw cowboy hat, full clown paint and garb, and cleated professional sports running shoes, the five-foot five-inch tall, 150 pound Ketchum has saved cowboys’ lives on many occasions. “Bullfighting is something you have to live and breathe,” Ketchum says. “My main goals are to protect the cowboy and make the bull buck to the best of his ability.”
For nearly two decades Ketchum has worked professional rodeo’s premier venues, including the National College Finals and Dodge Circuit Finals Rodeos. He was chosen four-times (1992-96) to be a National Finals Rodeo bullfighter and earned the title of World Champion Bullfighter in 1991. Ketchum helped inaugurate freestyle bullfighting in Ellensburg in the early ‘90s and won the championship several times (the event is no longer on the program). Still in his prime, Ketchum continues to work dozens of rodeos each year.
Ketchum’s peers attribute his success and longevity to professional acumen. “He grew up in the back pens, learning how to read bulls,” fellow bullfighting clown Joe Baumgartner notes. Rodeo cowboy Justin Andrade concurs: “Hank can read the bulls and bull riders” and “reacts on instinct.” Ketchum assesses his work with typical cowboy understatement: “If you know where wreck is going to be, you can be there to prevent it.”
ERHOF Board and Rodeo Board member Joel Smith commented that Loyd Ketchum is highly respected throughout the world of North American rodeo and “is a world class human being.” When Smith informed Ketchum of his selection for this year’s Induction, Ketchum replied he was “humbled and highly honored” at his selection.